While Lancaster Gate ward, where the other by-election of 22 November 2018 took place, is in the whirl of Central London, Bush Hill Park ward is a world away in a quiet suburban area of Enfield, London’s northernmost borough. It is in the Edmonton constituency represented by Labour’s Kate Osamor, but far from typical of that diverse and gritty urban community. Geographically, Buch Hill Park is set apart, sitting to the west of the A10 Great Cambridge Road, and most of it has an Enfield Town EN1 postcode rather than an Edmonton one.
Many London suburbs, including several in the borough of Enfield, such as Palmers Green and Southgate Green, have been transformed by demographic change and the complex evolution of London’s housing market. But Bush Hill Park has remained a more old-fashioned place. It is a middle-class residential ward, composed mostly of Edwardian and inter-war houses in attractive shaded avenues.
The population is older and whiter than the average for Enfield and has the highest proportion of owner-occupied housing (78.5 per cent) in the borough. This puts it in the top 50 wards in London by that measure. Labour is competitive in fewer than five of this type of ward, but Bush Hill Park is among them and the by-election was closely fought.
It arose because of the resignation of Conservative councillor Jon Daniels, who was elected only in May, but stood down because of the conflict between the commitment required from a councillor and his work and family responsibilities. While Daniels is to be commended for not wanting to let the residents of Bush Hill Park down, it does raise questions about whether parties do enough to educate their candidates about the scale of the responsibility that comes with serving even as a backbench councillor. It is demanding and essentially voluntary work.
It may be that the Conservatives did not expect to hold Bush Hill Park in May, given that it elected a split delegation in the 2014 local elections, with two Conservatives returned alongside Labour’s Sarah Doyle, despite Bush Hill Park and its pre-2002 predecessor Village ward being long-term Tory strongholds. All three incumbents stood down before the 2018 election, and in what was a good ward result for the Conservatives in a poor year they gained Doyle’s seat back from Labour despite a small pro-Labour swing. Such are the anomalies of the three-member electoral system.
Enfield politics has been more than a little embarrassing since May. Two councillors elected as Conservatives, including William Coleshill in Bush Hill Park ward, have been suspended for making offensive and arguably racist comments. Enfield Labour has been publicly divided on ethnic and factional lines, with Enfield North MP Joan Ryan suffering a no-confidence vote in September and a curious coalition of the Far Left and the Sunday Times criticising the new borough leadership under Nesil Caliskan. Since then, Kate Osamor has also come under attack for continuing to employ her son Ishmael as a communications officer despite his conviction for drugs offences and ensuing resignation from Haringey Council.
The contest in Bush Hill Park attracted six candidates, but Enfield is a two-party borough and the contest was always going to be between Labour’s Bevin Betton, an HR officer and consultant in housing management, and the Conservatives’ James Hockney.
The result was a decisive victory for the Conservatives, who held the seat with more than half the vote and a hefty 11 per cent swing in their favour since May. Hockney was previously a member of South Cambridgeshire District Council, has stood twice as a parliamentary candidate for the Conservatives in Barnsley, and has written and campaigned on issues such as school exclusions and tenant rights. Having achieved a genuinely impressive result in this local by-election, his campaigning abilities and ambition will strengthen the Conservative group on Enfield Council, which seem to be in severe need of new talent.